By 2050, 75 TW or More of PV Power Will Be Needed to Meet Decarbonization Goals

By 2050, 75 TW or More of PV Power Will Be Needed to Meet Decarbonization Goals

Apr 19,2023.

To power the planet, global solar experts are strongly committed to achieving continued growth in PV manufacturing and deployment. They believe that underestimating PV growth projections while waiting for consensus on other energy paths or last-minute technological miracles is no longer an option.

The consensus was reached at the third annual Terrawatt Workshop, held earlier this year. Several groups around the world are making increasingly high projections for the demand for large-scale PV to drive electrification and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. With the growing acceptance of PV technology, experts suggest that by 2050, approximately 75 TW or more of PV power will be needed globally to meet decarbonization goals.

Led by representatives from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Research in Germany, and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan, the symposium brought together leaders from research institutions, academia, and industry from around the world in the fields of PV, grid integration, analysis, and energy storage.

The 2018 conference further raised the goal to reach about 10 TW by 2030 and three times that amount by 2050. Participants at that workshop also predicted that global PV capacity would reach 1 TW within the next five years, a successful prediction, with that threshold being breached last year.

Nancy Haegel, director of NREL's National Photovoltaic Center, said, "We've made great progress, but to get there, we need to keep working and keep accelerating."

Haegel is the lead author of a new article in the journal Science, "Multi-Terawatt Photovoltaics: Waiting Is Not an Option. The co-authors are from 41 institutions in 15 countries."

NREL Director Martin Keller said, "Time is of the essence, so we must set goals that are high-impact, ambitious, and achievable, and in the field of photovoltaic solar energy, we have made great progress and will achieve even more as we continue to innovate and act with urgency."

Incident solar radiation could easily provide more than enough energy to meet the Earth's energy needs, but only a small fraction of it is available for use. Global photovoltaic power generation has increased dramatically from negligible in 2010 to 4-5% in 2022.

The workshop report notes that "the window for large-scale action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while meeting future global energy needs is closing with each passing day." Photovoltaics is one of the very few options that can be used immediately to replace fossil fuels." A major risk for the next decade is making the wrong assumptions or mistakes in modeling the growth needed for the PV industry, and then realizing too late that our failures lie in low-level expectations."

Workshop participants also expressed the need to redesign solar technologies for eco-design and recycling. Installations to date have been relatively low compared to demand over the next 20 years, but recycling materials is not currently an economically viable solution in terms of material demand.

As the report notes, the 75TW PV installation target "represents both a significant challenge and a viable path forward. Recent history and the current trajectory suggest that this goal is achievable."

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